The strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" have faded and the college class of 2012 is facing the realities of life: getting established, finding meaningful work–-and paying off college loans.

College loan debt nationally has surpassed credit card debt, according to one report, with the average graduate of a public university leaving school owing $24,000.

The debt load for newly graduated University of Arizona students isn’t quite as deep, at $21,000, says Kasey Urquidez, UA assistant vice president for student affairs.

“That’s increased a little bit over the last few years," says Urquidez, attributing it to the sharp rise in tuition in the state. "We see that trend going up nationally, but we’re happy to be part of the lower end of that being at about $21,000 a year.”

She says that paying off college debt can take years after graduation.

"As students are going out in the work force, we find that they are paying their loans back," Urquidez says. "UA students actually have a very low default rate on their loans. But some students are going into public service, they’re going into teaching, for example, where they have some longer payment programs that are a little different.”

But for most, the reality is that steep tuition increases in the last few years have burdened them with debt, and graduation means they must begin payback almost right away.

“Loans are a reality and I think the higher tuition becomes, probably the more people will have loans," says Elaine Stover, career services director at Arizona State University's Tempe campus. "I think to be realistic, a lot people do have to go to work right after graduation to pay off their loans and other bills that they have.”

That is the reality for the Class of 2012. But going forward, one respite from college education debt comes this fall for in-state students at Arizona’s three state universities.

For the first time in a decade, in-state tuition won’t be increased.

At the UA, that means one year of full-time schooling will cost $10,035 for an Arizona resident. Urquidez says the stable tuition rate will help students and their families to plan.

“We’re very glad that there’s not that increase for our in-state students," she says. "At least it can provide parents and families a little bit of that predictability in knowing what they need to put forward toward the cost of education knowing it’s going to be a similar amount. Students, I think, still are going to have to pull together to do some work of their own and package things together.”